Giving Your Flu Clinic a Shot at Success
A behind-the-scenes look at what goes into a successful flu immunization clinic, whether it’s large or small.
By Trudie Mitschang
Anyone who has ever hosted a public flu immunization clinic can attest that there is a lot more that goes into a successful event than meets the eye. At a glance, you might think all you need to do is order vaccine, locate an administration site, hang out some signs and posters, and start immunizing. In truth, planning a large flu clinic is not unlike planning a party or corporate event, and the devil is always in the details.
Of course, not every flu clinic is large enough to need lengthy advanced planning. Many clinics are small-scale events within a private practice or local pharmacy, with a steady and manageable flow of foot traffic. Still, it’s a good idea to follow most of the guidelines that apply to a larger clinic, scaling down recommendations to meet your individual needs. For example, while crowd management may not be a concern, providing adequate seating is important if you expect lots of seniors. Similarly, marketing your clinic and getting the word out to the community is an important step no matter how many people you anticipate.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to facilitate the most efficient and safe delivery of flu vaccine via a community clinic, a number of key areas must be addressed: leadership, human resources, location, clinic specifications, crowd management, security and advertising.
Leading the Way
Identifying leaders for your vaccination campaign is essential. A point person can help manage staff, delegate duties and deal with minor problems as they arise on the day of the event. In addition to a clinic manager, the CDC recommends designating team leaders for supplies, logistics, medical personnel and support functions.
Promoting Team Spirit
Just how many people does it take to run a flu clinic? That depends on the size of the clinic, but in general, plan to have staff to act as greeters, screeners, registration personnel, payment collectors, traffic flow controllers, vaccination administrators and assistants, and security and emergency medical personnel. Obviously, some of these roles will overlap. In the case of a smaller clinic, you may need only registration personnel and vaccine administrators. No matter how many patients you expect to see, be sure to employ multilingual staff to meet your community’s needs.
In terms of staff training, start early. Weeks before the clinic date, plan to host training sessions to prepare personnel and answer questions. For smaller clinics, be sure to meet at least twice prior to the day of the event to review logistics and ensure all staff members are clear on their individual roles. It’s also a good idea to cross-train; having people prepared to jump in as needed will keep things running smoothly when things don’t go as planned. Last, avoid staff burnout by pre-scheduling time for breaks and snacks in a designated area.
Location Really Is Everything
When it comes to finding an appropriate site for a large clinic, locations that typically work well include school gyms, churches, auditoriums, theaters or other large covered public spaces accessible to the elderly and persons with disabilities.
Other key considerations include ensuring proximity to mass transit, ample parking, separate entry and exit doors, adequate lighting, functional and accessible restrooms, and adequate space for all clinic functions such as screening, registration, vaccine storage, vaccination and staff breaks. In addition, select a facility with space for reasonably large and well-delineated covered gathering areas outside and inside of the clinic.
Keeping Things Moving
The logistics of a large flu clinic involve identifying the various stations an individual will need to visit as they make their way through the facility. Use ample amounts of rope and signs in multiple languages to delineate routes and manage traffic flow. Since you should anticipate lines, provide seating near the various stations. Privacy screens may also provide discretion for those who need to partially disrobe to be vaccinated. Additionally, you may want to section off a private area where clients who experience adverse reactions following vaccination can be evaluated and treated.
Small flu clinics will not be concerned with crowd control, but should plan for an ebb and flow of patients during clinic hours. If you are expecting a high turnout during certain times of the day, like lunch hours, be sure to have ample seating available should there be a longer-than-expected wait.
Crowd Management 101
No matter what time your flu clinic is scheduled to start, expect people to show up early. Have staff arrive one to two hours before clinic start time to welcome and screen clients, even if pre-scheduling is being used. Other helpful tips from the CDC include:
- Arrange accommodations for special-needs clients, such as those with disabilities, for expedited access into the clinic.
- Direct arriving clients into several lines, and use numerous signs and announcements to clarify who falls into high-risk groups.
- Communicate the number of vaccine doses available.
- Update clients on their estimated waiting times.
- If vaccine is being prioritized for certain groups, inform waiting clients that high-risk populations will be served first.
- Schedule at least two screeners per line to reduce crowd size and waiting times.
Once clients are inside:
- Have staff assist as needed with consent forms and/or vaccination cards.
- Utilize runners to keep staff stocked with ample supplies.
- Maintain a steady flow of clients through the clinic so that vaccinators are never without a client at their stations.
- Have clearly marked exit doors to keep the
Safety First: Maintaining Clinic Security
Security may be an overlooked area of concern. To ensure adequate protection in the clinic, require all staff to wear identification cards color-coded for their job functions. Utilizing a uniformed presence to act as security and assist in managing crowds also can be helpful. Make sure to secure the vaccine and protect clinic staff and their valuables. Be sure to discard any vaccine-filled syringes remaining after the clinic closes. And, consider recruiting local volunteers familiar to clinic customers since they may be especially effective in diffusing crowd-related tension.
Getting the Word Out
Getting people to attend your flu clinic requires advanced planning and ample promotion. Use multilingual and multimedia channels, and if pre-scheduling, provide clear instructions for how to set up appointments via telephone, in person or online. Remember that part of your promotion is educational not just informational; many people still need to be convinced that flu shots are necessary and safe, so use appropriate messaging to reach these population groups.
Planning Well In Advance
With proper forethought and planning, a successful flu vaccination clinic can be staged if key elements are addressed well in advance. Following tried-and-true preparation guidelines maximizes the effectiveness and efficiency of flu clinics, resulting in increased protection for the community.
Trudie Mitschang is a staff writer for BioSupply Trends Quarterly magazine.
Helpful Hints from a National Flu Shot Provider
VaxAmerica is a company on the frontline when it comes to planning and implementing flu vaccine clinics. A program of NuFACTOR, FFF Enterprises’ specialty pharmacy, VaxAmerica was launched in 2008, and since then the company has been blazing new trails when it comes to making flu vaccination fast, affordable and convenient. Last year, it hosted its own series of H1N1 flu clinics, vaccinating nearly 4,000 men, women and children. According to Nancy Creadon, vice president of VaxAmerica Inc., some key components of a successful flu clinic include:
- Book early: Quarter one is the best time to book yourclinic for the fall. Less lead time results in issues with staffing and vaccine supply.
- Engage participants months before the clinic date by providing information about the benefits of the vaccine.
- Provide incentives to get people to receive their flu shots. Employers may provide lunch coupons. Colleges could provide a postcard to send home to mom and dad letting them know their students got their shot. And everyone likes coupons for free fast-food meals. There are so many creative ideas to reach people. It is a small investment with large returns.
- Utilize the posters and materials provided by your flu shot provider.
- Provide clear direction regarding the location, date and time of your clinic weeks in advance so people can mark their calendars.
- Make sure you have a functional landline phone at the location in the event of an emergency. Sometimes cell coverage is unreliable in a medical emergency.
- Provide clipboards and pens so necessary documentation can be completed easily.
- Make sure your vaccine provider gives consumers a receipt of vaccination.